GSA Exhibitions is just back from the Isle of Mull after working with An Tobar (Comar), on a Glasgow International Festival project with Serena Korda. Korda developed her work over both rural and city locations of Mull and Garnethill, Glasgow. The residency at the two locations allowed Korda to respond to place and community, in order to evolve the work. After a successful showing at Reid Gallery, GSA, as part of the Festival, the exhibition has travelled back to its other source, on Mull.
Korda with this project continued her investigation into ‘thin places’ – anomolies in the landscape which were viewed in pre-Christian times as access points to the afterlife. In particular on Mull, she was inspired by an encounter out on a walk to the lost village of Crackaig and its ‘hanging tree’, where a witch was allegedly hung.
The mushroom became her starting point for entering these otherworlds. Through foraging expeditions on the Isle of Mull, the deadly potential of some fungi presented themselves as possible pathways to ‘thin places’. Korda handmade a magical field of porcelain mushrooms in the gallery.
In Glasgow, Korda was in particular inspired by the radical changes brought to Garnethill by different generations of women, including the Glasgow Girls, who had trained in the early days of the art school, to Glasgow Women’s Library, whose inception had been in 1990 as a reaction to a dominant male presence that they perceived in European City of Culture. As part of the exhibition at GSA, an archive room was created, to make these inspirations apparent, with loans from University of Glasgow, CCA, Glasgow Women’s Library and GSA’s own Archives & Collections.
In Mull, the natural forms of the sculptural installation became more apparent as a link to the particular island surroundings. A walk to Aros Park, near Tobermory, showed the mosses that Korda had gathered to utilise as the forms that would make the ends of the stalks of the mushroom bells. Korda had dipped the moss in porcelain, with it burning out and leaving its form in the firing process.
In terms of links to community, Korda formed a band particular to each location, in order for participants to play the sculptural bells as an instrument. At GSA, the group was made up from young teenagers and adults from GSA, Garnethill and the Royal Conservetoire. In Mull, Korda worked with Mull Youth Theatre. The music for both Glasgow and Mull was composed by Martin Low for this project by Korda. Low is a sound designer and composer living on Mull.
Korda’s own interests in creating sculptures that also can be animated as instruments, builds on her project of the Jug Choir, which has been played by different groups in Edinburgh, Oxford and Cardiff. Korda is inspired to create new rituals around the work she makes. Immersive sound for her is inspired by the rituals of ‘sound baths’, in particular a memorable visit to Joshua Tree in USA where she went to the Integratron, a ‘tabernacle’ and ‘energy machine’ located in the desert.
In thinking of the gallery space as a place to visit, where works held within can impart a feeling, connection, or potentially series of messages or experiences to the viewer, the gallery becomes the tabernacle. The residency format, leading to exhibition, also allows the artist to make connections, much like mycelium, to different locations, individuals and groups in the surrounding area. Mycelium describes the threadlike part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, as represented by the criss-crossing rope structure across the ceiling of both the gallery spaces. The fungi or mycelium forms a kind of communication under the ground where the roots of different plants can be linked. The mycelium detects if there is a need of nutrients, or conversely if toxins are being brought into the habitat by ‘unwelcome plants’.
It was a natural point of departure for this work, like mycelium, to spout up in both Glasgow and Mull. Also for there to be many elements that talk to each other across this project; including archival room, the Mushroom Band participants in both locations; the vinyl single and Low’s binaural soundscape “I Have Met Them And They Are Us” (2016), which drew on the sounds of other communities including workshops with GSA choir. At GSA the role of the ‘agitator’ was created, through a call out to staff and students, asking them to learn to play one of the amplified mushrooms and come throughout the show run when they felt like it, to play in the gallery during opening hours.
Korda’s work has successfully tuned into both the communities of Garnethill and Mull. Her show runs at An Tobar until 30 July 2016.